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Does stem length affect handling?(18 posts)

Does stem length affect handling?Psalm 147-10_11
May 2, 2002 6:49 AM
Earlier this year, I developed a lot of pain between my shoulder blades and around my neck. I'm certain this was because the reach on my winter fixed gear bike was too long. After reviewing the results from a professional fitting, I concluded that I needed to reduce the stem length on both my fixed gear and my regular road bike (I have long legs and a short upper body and ride a Merckx because of its relatively short top tube: 60st, 58tt). I went from a 12 cm stem to a 10 cm stem and the pain is completely gone.

I have noticed, however, that my bike feels less stable on rough roads and steep decents. Is this my imagination, or does stem length affect the handling? BTW, everything else is the same (i.e., fork rake, stem rise, etc.).

I just went from a 10cm to 9cm..........Dave Hickey
May 2, 2002 6:57 AM
And I noticed a difference on the first couple of ride. The 9cm has a quicker feel. I'm used to it now and don't think about it.
I had a similiar experience going from a 11cm to 9cm..[nm]jagiger
May 2, 2002 8:29 AM
YesMike Prince
May 2, 2002 6:57 AM
Because you weight will now be distributed over the bike differently. Shorter stem=less weight over the front wheel which would explain the less stable feeling. More bounce and a less "solid" contact with the road...
Also, the same amount of travel arc in absolute measure (notbill
May 2, 2002 7:09 AM
degrees but distance) will rotate the fork less on a longer stem. Longer stem would feel more stable.
I've always heard that the length of stem does matter, and I've never really thought about why. This just occurred to me.
You know what I hate, though? Lots of authorities will say this or that affects handling or feel or something, but they won't explain how or why. I've certainly read that the length of stem will affect handling, but no one says whether longer will do this or shorter will do that. As if it's obvious, but the only thing that's obvious is that the writer/speaker/source has no more clue than I do but is afraid to say it. I am beginning to suspect that, over and over, the same myths about a lot of this stuff get recirculated without any understanding of what they really mean or, certainly, any critical analysis. Actually, I'm way past suspicion.
Amount of travel arc in distance,guido
May 2, 2002 7:44 PM
That explains what the other posters are saying, that the shorter the stem, the shorter the arc, the faster the steering response.

A longer stem also drapes more forearm and hand weight furthur forward over the front wheel. This dampens road vibrations better, allowing the forearms and hands to exert pressure on the wheel from right above it, not slightly behind.

Bikes aren't so much steered but leaned into changes of direction. The handlebars are mainly to hold the front wheel in line and maintain balance, which the inertial mass of bike and rider wants to do anyway. So once you get the feel of the shorter stem, you'll be able to handle the bike just as well.
re: Does stem length affect handling?atpjunkie
May 2, 2002 6:58 AM
a 2cm change shouldn't be that bad but will change the handling. The shorter the stem the more "twitchy" the bike feels. It's why they don't make stems under 9 cm or recommend their use. You'll notice it descending like you said, you should adjust. I have the opposite problem, need long TT, long stem, just moved from a 12 to a 13 and the bike (which always felt stable) seems more stable.
re: Does stem length affect handling?PMC
May 2, 2002 7:06 AM
I had a Cannondale last season that was a tad bit too big where I experienced the same thing. I went from a 12cm stem to a 10cm and didn't like the handling. It was real twitchy and didn't feel nearly as stable with the shorter stem. I ended up selling the bike.
Yes, but fit's more important. You'll probably get used to itretro
May 2, 2002 7:18 AM
Anything you do on a bike is a trade-off--skinny fast tires or cushy slower ones; superlight components vs. heavier durable ones; bars down low for aero position or up higher so you can see. If you still had the pain, you wouldn't enjoy riding, so you'd do less of it. Personally, the single best change I ever made to my bikes was to raise the handlebars and bring them a little closer. I can stay in the saddle easily twice as long as I could when the bars were low and far away.
Hmmm That's 4:1 Moving to Shorter Stems (nm)B2
May 2, 2002 8:49 AM
Make it 5 to 1vitusdude
May 3, 2002 4:25 AM
My commuter bike is a little long in the top tube for me. I went from a 10.5 to an 8.5 (ctoc) because I was just too stretched out. The fit is just right with the shorter stem. I made the steering a bit faster but I got used to it quickly and am much more comfortable on the bike. Like a lot of short stemmers out there I have relatively long legs and short torso. I use an 11.5 on my other bike, with a shorter top tube and a very short reach bar: Cinelli 64. Bar reach is another variable in the equation.
Make it 5 to 1atpjunkie
May 3, 2002 5:23 PM
yea I use a shorter stem set up on my commuter as well. It's actually a cross bike so I'm using a 100 + 5 versus a 130 -10 on my roadie. It helps in traffic and for when I split off on a dirt trail. Also running 35 knobbies, it's the perfect commuter rig, super fun on all terrain and makes my weekends on the roadie seem easier.
120mm to what?MisJG
May 2, 2002 10:15 AM
I have a neg 17 deg, 120 on my C-dale now but the reach is much too long. I have a neg 17 d, 90 on my commuter, but that's a little too short. (I'm changing this to a 40 deg, 130 cheap mtb from Nashbar. By my math it should give me a little more reach with an increase in height that I want for the commute) So what should I change the C-dale to? 100 or 110? I'm torn. Sticking w/ the neg 17 d for this one though. It's my training, triathlon, century bike. Quill stems are becoming more and more difficult to find!
My experienceQubeley
May 2, 2002 10:18 AM
I changed from 10cm to 9cm. Yes, major difference, more twitchy, or more responsive. It feels unstable at the beginning, but once you got used to it, no problem.
There is a problem, however, when you climb hard or sprinting, the front wheel turns from one side to the other side too much and I felt some energy is being wasted, keeping your wheel straight is important for the sprint. I am thinking of go back to 10cm.
Thanks... I think I may go up to an 11cmPsalm 147-10_11
May 2, 2002 10:20 AM
I've given the new set up about two months and while I'm feeling all better, my confidence in a tight pack is a little suspect. As a result, my LBS will let me swap the stem for an 11cm. That'll still be shorter than the 12 I had on there and if the neck and back remains okay, I'll be golden...

Thanks all.
stem length etc...atpjunkie
May 2, 2002 1:03 PM
good luck. For those who go shorter / higher, yes it is more comfortable but less aero. Do more stomach excercises (it helps the lower back) and you will get used to the lower position. Shorter stems make a bike more responsive as energy transmitted to the steerer tube is transferred quicker and w/ less drastic (less leverage) action. A longer stem stabilizes the front end (more weight) but with greater leverage, it is why descending in aero bars can be so deadly. When riders are in aero bars it's like having a 170+ stem length so it may feel stable in a straight line, but any quick turn from that far up moves the wheel a great distance. If you have to avoid an obstacle at high speed and react to quick, too fast in that position you are asking to crash. A triathelete died in San Diego last year due to this, it's too much leverage too quickly. Shorter stems will feel quicker to react but once you adapt it will be no trouble.
for that guy who is looking for quills I have a 120 and 130 that I'll part with cheap.
stem length etc...eflayer2
May 3, 2002 7:11 PM
what brand and model of 13 do you have?
stem length etc...atpjunkie
May 6, 2002 3:42 PM
3ttt 120 and 130 I think they are Forma SL's. 120 is used, 130 is new, just scuffed where I started to install. Still has shop sticker partially on. As I was installing I decided to go threadless so stem was never used. Have 42 cm c-c 3t bar used and used D/A headset if you are interested.